Doveman's Thomas Bartlett inaugurates a new season of the Burgundy Sessions, perhaps the mellowest musical salon in town
11:44 am Apr. 17, 2012
There may have been some false starts over the past few months, but as the sun set on the first warm night of spring on Friday, a small crowd descended the stairs of Le Poisson Rouge to attend the Burgundy Stain Sessions, the first of this year’s recurring musical salon curated by Doveman’s Thomas Bartlett.
Doveman is essentially Bartlett, 30, and a rotating group of collaborators from across the spectrum of New York performers. Typically a background player, he's played alongside The National, David Byrne, and Antony, but on his own through these salons, surrounded by talented colleagues, he's developed a tidy following. He organized the series in an attempt to re-create similar salons he'd held Chelsea. Since these semi-monthly shows at LPR began last year, they’ve gotten attention from the media for their intimate and impromptu nature.
Ever the sideman, Bartlett was understated and subdued even when he was center stage. But his nuanced arrangements and well-ordered set curation showed why he’s an effective musical director for this sort of thing.
Friday's performance, less a strict line-up than casual gathering of like-minded musicians, included Australian singer Julia Stone, Trixie Whitley, Justin Vivian Bond, and The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bryan Devendorf. The ensemble kicked around an array of songs, many of them covers or previews from forthcoming albums.
The crowd was made up mostly of smartly dressed people in their 30s, peppered with friends and family of the performers (recognizable by their extra-spirited hoots). The room was full, but it seemed that there were just enough barstools and table seats to leave only a few people standing.
The audience seemed partial to the venue's cocktails—with names like “Sleepy Hollow” and “Le Coquette”—but true to the evening’s namesake, Bartlett drank red wine throughout the night. As he walked alone to the piano to get the evening started, the room’s red and blue lights dimmed. The first notes that rang from his piano sounded ominous, but the song soon brightened, flowering into the optimistic lyric “there’s always time to fall in love again.”
He soon invited his fellow musicians to “come and play noise.”
Julia Stone, half of the brother-sister duo Angus & Julia Stone, sings with an Australian-accented voice that bears some resemblance to Joanna Newsom. Before she played the sad love song, “I’m Here, I’m Not Here,” she blew out birthday candles, given to her in a low-key presentation. Even birthdays happen in a mellow mood at the Doveman salon.
“The song I’m going to sing now is a little bit depressing,” Stone said when the candles were snuffed. “But that’s all right.”
The crowd reached its apex of excitement as Stone and the two members of The National played a cover of “Bloodbuzz Ohio”—a song featured on Stone's album By the Horns, due next month. Next, Justin Vivian Bond, best known for playing a raspy lounge singer character in Kiki & Herb, sang a few quick, fun tunes, including a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Let the Wind Carry Me.”
Yet it was 24-year-old singer Trixie Whitley, the daughter of late blues rocker Chris Whitley, who was quite possibly the evening's leading light. She strikes a rather unassuming figure for someone who began playing music professionally when she was ten. She bantered quietly to the crowd in an oversized jacket that accentuated her small frame. But when she sang, her high notes filled the room. The contrast between her powerful voice and Bartlett's reserved manners prompted him to remark on her “raising the dead and me sounding like I’m dead.”
Near the end of the evening, Whitley played “Breathe You in My Dreams,” and everyone returned to the stage, including Dessner and Devendorf, Sam Cohen on guitar, Stone on backing vocals.
The evening's music at an end, Bartlett announced that there were three more dates planned for July, October, and December, and told the room that one would have a member of Tegan & Sarah (he didn't specify which one) playing covers of songs by The Magnetic Fields.
Chatting in the hallway afterward about the salons to come, Bartlett epitomized the mellow, off-the-cuff feel of the night.
He credited his musician friends with helping create a spontaneous place for music conversation.
“This just feels like going to a nice dinner party,” he said. “It’s like a natural extension of my social life.”
Then he got back to talking with his family and some friends who lined up to congratulate him on a good show. It seemed like a successful night for the artists, and perhaps just as importantly, for the audience. It was, as one Twitter user put it, exactly what she always thought being a grown-up was like. “Drinks, music, sitting in the dark. Nice when dreams come true.”
Videos courtesy of Youtube's capnkoons
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